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Recycling Ideas From The Trash

Amelius at 12:04PM, Nov. 18, 2018
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There are no bad ideas, just poor execution…..terrible, awful execution.

You may have seen those games that go around on social media, such as “Describe a classic movie/video game/novel in the worst way possible”, it shows how easy it is to make any concept seem like the biggest pile of crap imaginable. It was the talent behind these so-named classics that made the idea work, giving them style and depth, despite the potential for the concept to be the worst possible thing. Well my friends, the opposite can be true as well. A great concept, falling way short of expectations because the creative folks involved weren't up to the challenge, too in love with their own vision to make the hard calls in editing to polish it to a shine, or they were simply lazy.

You probably have heard that saying, “If you don't like it go out and make your own version!” There are dozens of people who have done this extensively, arm chair writing or directing their favorite franchise's shortfall. Many people do go out and make their own version in the form of fan works, homages, reinventions and so on. There are hundreds of stories out there adopting ideas that failed to execute properly that ambitious creators set out to fix. It's not all just fan fiction though. You can be inspired to make amazing original works from bad ideas too. I don't mean subconsciously absorb bad ideas into your own work, but rather to see the spark of potential and take it on to forge it into something hopefully better.

For many, it's the challenge of making that poorly handled idea work within their scope. It's easy to get inspired by great works and classics, things that have already blazed a trail and left a positive impression on the audience at large… but so have countless others making it hard for even a good idea to stand out. I too have my own influences from things that people already enjoy, but it's so much more fun, I think, to get your hands a little dirty working with some of the things that went awry and an excellent way to help you stand out from the pack.

I, and most people, don't deliberately seek terrible stories but I do try new things and sometimes that means trying something which turns out to be awful. However, even if you are less adventurous and blessed with impeccable taste, bad ideas do pop up even in good works from time to time (frequently when they just go one too many seasons and failed to set up their new direction properly as the show pivots to new topics, trying to find something new to say or do). When I see them, I set my mind to figuring out where it could have been improved. A good amount of tropes in my work are things I deliberately incorporated because I disliked how they were handled in popular media, and wanted to try my hand at fixing it within the scope of my own narratives.

A lot of “critics” tend to declare certain narrative tropes as “always bad” whenever they crop up in a work due to being mishandled, and I'm not of that mindset. Some ideas are still worth exploring even if they've supposedly been done to death or never done right at all. It's as simple as considering what angle they haven't been explored from and how to do them better.

The important thing is to be mindful of what the fundamental malfunction with the idea was before attempting to fix it. The problem with a lot of bad ideas that make it out into the world to the point that they become “cliche” is that they are an inferior copy of a good idea with a different coat of paint, for a while this can work but invariably the idea becomes a parody of its former greatness and the audience becomes sick of it. This is the pitfall of trying to use a popular and trendy trope. The purpose of the exercise isn't to do the bad idea the same way but with your characters plugged into the roles, but rather it's about examining WHY the idea failed in the first place and finding a genuinely new take on it.

Examining terrible stories also has its advantages outside of giving you a starting point with ideas to try and improve and remold. It can help put you onto an idea, genre or style that your don't normally tap into and help avoid getting stuck in a rut. We've all seen a formerly great writer or director get stuck making inferior variations of their own work until they seem to have totally lost the magic which once made them great. I used to be a big fan of Tim Burton, but my appreciation for his earlier works doesn't necessarily make me forgiving to his more recent endeavors.

Finally, it can simply but perhaps most powerfully give you something to aspire NOT to be which can go a long way in avoiding creating your own failure! When a reboot of the Looney Tunes franchise came out, the writers said they put a poster for a previous iteration, “Loonatics Unleashed”, a dark and edgy superhero reboot of Looney Tunes characters, up on their wall to inspire them NOT to make something like that ever again. My opinions on what they did create instead notwithstanding, this is an example of exactly what I'm talking about, using the precedent of something terrible to inspire yourself to DO BETTER!

What terrible thing have you watched or read that inspired you to make a better story? (I hope it needs not be said, try not to pick on any independent creators with this one!)

What narrative trope would you want to see written well but is very rarely done?

Do you challenge yourself to adapt ideas that people love to hate, or do you shy away from them because of the stigma of the dreaded “cliche”?

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anonymous?

JaymonRising at 9:31AM, Nov. 21, 2018

In a perfect world I'd make a genderswapped comic of Beauty and the Beast, except instead of a beast she'd be an assassin who has to fall for a cross dressing nerd with the power to give her a clean slate before her antitracking software becomes obsolete (they even recreate the dance scene with the clothes reversed to his request)...all in the style of Robert Crumb. (somewhat deconstructing his usual schtick)

irrevenant at 1:16PM, Nov. 19, 2018

t's funny you say that, Bravo. Brandon Sanderson's new book "Skyward" also started by riffing off the "a boy and his dragon" trope. His ended up an "a girl and her spaceship" tale. It sounds pretty cool. As does yours...

bravo1102 at 9:49AM, Nov. 19, 2018

There was another awful young adult fantasy series that I reimagined before starting on the whole webcomics thing. I still get feedback from the one short story I did based on it all these years later. I was going to turn around Eragon and call it Galba the King. ( the main villain in the original was Galbatorex) I also totally turned the whole Dragon riding fantasy into a story about the adventures of a World War I pilot called Ace Oregon with his Spad fighter "Sophie"

irrevenant at 4:00AM, Nov. 19, 2018

Eh, not the best example, but you get the idea. To answer the actual question, a trope I'd like to see done well is the chosen destined hero. That is often just played straight with little exploration of the implications of that concept.

irrevenant at 3:52AM, Nov. 19, 2018

(continued) She understandably takes this poorly, things go bad and he kills and drains her. He is remorseful but before too long he's over it and sets his sights on her friend instead. Perhaps *she* can be the one to save him from the monster he is, instead. This can either be the entire story, or just the first act. That's off the top of my head and it ain't Shakespeare but IMO it's already a more interesting story than the original. It has drama and conflict and it actually dives into the darkness underlying the story instead of using it for shallow cool factor. The vampire wants to be human but he isn't and his denial of that can be fatal.

irrevenant at 3:47AM, Nov. 19, 2018

What you said at the end there. Taking what you hate about a work and turning on its head can be a great way to create something new. For random example, Twilight. I hate lots about that film. I hate that the creepy, borderline-abusive relationship is portrayed as romantic. I hate the entire character of Bella and the story based around her. I hate that the fact Edward *is constantly resisting killing and draining her* is almost completely ignored. But I love the idea of mineral-based vampires. I'm even cool with the "sparkling" - which I see as not glitter-like but as unnatural light textures beneath the skin - 'cos, y'know, made of crystal. So we take the base idea and follow it through without the elements I hate. Our vampire falls for a human woman, but she immediately recognises him as a creepy stalker and wants nothing to do with him. He's not going to give up that easily. She's freaked and tells her friends. He corners her and confesses what he is and that he loves her.

ozoneocean at 9:21PM, Nov. 18, 2018

Pinky TA has its share of poorly executed, bad ideas 😁 It's based on a big one: the idea of a sexy heroine in a world where dressing is sexy gear while piloting military mecha makes sense. I don't know if I pull it off but I try.

ozoneocean at 9:18PM, Nov. 18, 2018

Like I said, I love the structure and tropes in anime, but I love them even more when people work around them and come up with new, novel takes built on that structure.

ozoneocean at 9:16PM, Nov. 18, 2018

I love watching anime while I work on my stuff, I consume heaps of it! I like the simple structure and appreciate many of the tropes. One that many do terribly is the "Harrem" anime. Bad ideas are recycled over and over with characters just being carbon copies of others... Often with the central conceit that the boy or girl at the centre is a horny typical teen but also scared to death of sex, and terrified of the sexual situations they frequently fall into. That gets very annoying. It IS certainly possible to make a great Harrem story though and there are a few: subvert the "scared of sex" thing, swap genders, increase the age of all protagonists, good be other plausible reasons for the lead not to want to consumate relationships etc. Simply don't always stick to the same formulas.

Banes at 8:03PM, Nov. 18, 2018

If one has an interest in the genre, there's an interesting documentary about the rise and fall of the Slasher movie in the 80's - after the success of Halloween, slasher movies were cranked out like mad for a few years - they seemed to get worse and worse pretty quickly (though even some of the clunkers had something cool about them), until the entire genre was demolished within just a few years.

JaymonRising at 5:16PM, Nov. 18, 2018

I think what people should try to do is make art out of their favourite trash, like Panos Cosmatos did with 'Mandy': before Mandy, Cosmatos did 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' which was meant to be a serious homage to 70s/80s scifi like 'Suspiria', 'THX 1138' or Any creepy Stanley Kubrick movie, down to the pacing, atmosphere and music. Not a lot of people got it and it fell into obscurity. With Mandy, however, Cosmatos seemed to aim for the kind of films that brought out the scary sense of wonder from his youth, like 'Nightbeast' or 'Blue Velvet' which really shows. The same could be said for 'Rango', which feels like Verbinski asking "what if Sergio Leone worked for Pixar?". The point is this: just as aiming for perfection is like chasing a rainbow(pun or no pun), aiming for authenticity is less effective as aiming for reigniting that sense of wonder those films/stories/etc. were worth enjoying for.


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